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Sandy Mack - Still Going Strong

Blues Leaf Records

14 songs; 58:10 minutes; Suggested

Styles: Chicago Blues, Jump Blues, Rock and Roll, Boogie, Jazz

I have been wanting to write a song in the worst way. So far, I have been completely successful (“in the worst way”). Initially, I struggle with subject matter. How can a writer avoid cliché (my woman done left me....again) and be innovative? Each week, I review a new CD and am constantly amazed and entertained by what writers create.

This week, here comes Sandy Mack with a song about two ghosts fighting, in “Ghost Stories.” Why couldn’t I think of that? First, that takes unusual wit, and secondly, who knew that ghosts fight? To moodily showcase the clever and humorous story told by the lyrics, Mack puts Ira Kaye on pounding drums and allows producer John Pittas to play “cheesy organ” sounding like a 1950s horror movie soundtrack. Mack sings in his patented, never rough or jagged, smooth, nasal vocals and adds harmonica accents. Says Mack, “I try to make music that doesn’t sound like everybody else’s.”

My radio partner “Shuffle Shoes”, who rarely likes any new CD, first discovered this follow-up to Mack’s 2001 debut recording “That's What I'm Talking About.” Described by “Shuff” as “warm and professional sounds of a veteran,” this fourteen track disc features four classic blues covers along with ten strong Mack original songs, which highlight his versatility as a blues based singer/songwriter/harp player.

Besides “Ghost Stories” demonstrating Sandy’s versatility, there is “Life Boat,” a wonderful, jazzy original. It opens with earworm-catchy ethereal “wooo - ooo - oo” vocals courtesy of Sarah Mack. The middle is highlighted by solos: Sandy’s studied chromatic harmonica, John Pittas’ electric piano work, and an attention-demanding guitar solo by Andy Reidel.

New Jersey shore’s Mack (McCuiston) has put together an impressive who's who guest list of the State’s top blues musicians, plus a special guest, legendary guitarist Kid Ramos on six tracks. First played on our “Friends of the Blues Radio Show” was “Never Enuff Rockin’” in which Ramos really picks his so-clean lines in the mid song solo on this Jump Blues styled Rock and Roll number.

Our next play was the first track, “Drunked,” a gentle Blues about the world’s worst hangover. “I got up; daylight knocked me back down! ...I [had] drunk a whole lot of beer - then a lot more gin. My buddy came in the bar and set me up again...,” the lyrics report as Mack's harp, Kid Ramos' guitar, and Jumpin' Jack Strobel's organ are all low and slow, like they really were playing for someone with a bad hangover.

Last week, we played “Boogie Now” featuring a false harmonica start followed by Mack’s slicing, hipster voice saying, “Ummm, that ain’t it!... It’s more like this.” Then the band rips into an original boogie that would make John Lee Hooker proud. Filthy Rich McPherson lays down the rhythm rumble guitar track. Future plays will include “Get Right,” Little Walter’s instrumental “Shake Dancer,” and “Love Explosion.”

“Still Going Strong” easily switches styles many times, which is a testimony to Mack’s dedication to the broad genre and to his ability to surround himself with talented musicians. Active in the New Jersey Shore music scene since the early 1970s, Mack’s vocals and harp playing are clearly “Still Going Strong” enough to win over any Blues fan.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL

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